So you want to work with fathers? Whatever your situation or reasons for caring, we're glad you do! You might be asking the following questions: Where do I start in working with dads? What in the world do I focus on? How do I actually help meet the needs of fathers around me?
These are all great questions! And, you’re not alone in asking them. Everyone who works with fathers has asked them at one time or another. Which is why we developed a discussion guide to answer these questions. More specifically, we created this guide in response to requests for help in identifying the most critical issues to address with dads.
In talking with you and based on our years of experience, we identified 17 issues that are critical to address when assisting fathers of any race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background in becoming involved, responsible, and committed dads.
We offer a full guide called 17 Critical Issues to Discuss with Dads for purchase. In this post, we wanted to give you sample of the 17 critical topics that are covered in more detail with the full guide:
1. Family of Origin
What is the most important factor that influences a father’s knowledge, attitudes, values, and behavior about how to raise and care for his child? If you said, “The influence of the family he grew up in,” you are correct.
"A father’s own father is often the most powerful
influence in shaping how he fathers his children."
If you want insight into how a father thinks and what he feels about fatherhood, and how involved he is in the life of his child, ask him what he learned about being a father from his parents and extended family. The family someone grows up in is often called a “family of origin,” because it is the family in which a person begins his or her life.
2. Masculinity and Fatherhood
Have you ever put together a model airplane? The idea was that if you followed the instructions, your model should have looked like the picture on the box. Unfortunately, your model might not have looked like the picture, because pieces were missing or you didn’t thoroughly read or follow the instructions.
The key to developing good fathers is to first develop good men. Learning what it means to be a man and father works the same way. Men learn from their parents and culture a model for how a man and father should look and act. This model comes with instructions that help men grow into the “right kind” of man or father.
3. Fathering Skills
Unfortunately, many fathers lack the self-efficacy they need to be good fathers. Self-efficacy is the belief in a father that he has the skills—or can acquire the skills—that he needs to be a good father. A lack of self-efficacy can be especially chronic in fathers whose own fathers were physically or psychologically absent. Self-efficacy is the belief in a father that he has the skills—or can acquire the skills—that he needs to be a good father.
4. Child Development
Picture this situation. A father prepares a meal for himself and his three-year-old son. As they dine, on the three-year-old starts to eat with his hands. The father tells his son that he must use a fork. The child uses the fork for a few minutes and then reverts to using his hands. The father becomes frustrated and yells at his son to stop using his hands and pick up the fork, or else dad will take the food away.
What’s wrong here? If you said the father shouldn’t have yelled at his son and threatened to take away the food, you’re right. But why did the father yell at and threaten his son? The primary reason is that dad didn’t understand that it’s perfectly fine, developmentally speaking, for a three-year-old to use both utensils and hands to eat. One of the most helpful tools for fathers is information developmental milestones. Some of the biggest mistakes made by fathers stem from a lack of knowledge about child development. So it’s vital that dads learn about child development and the physical, emotional, and social milestones their children should reach by a certain age.
5. Raising Boys, Raising Girls
Are boys or girls harder to raise? Is there any difference in the way a father should raise a son compared to a daughter? These are questions that can weigh heavily on the minds of fathers. Perhaps you have asked yourself these questions. The answer to the first question is that boys and girls pose different challenges at different stages in their lives; so, as a general rule, neither boys nor girls are harder to raise. The answer to the second question is that the basics of fathering sons and daughters are the same, but it’s the ways in which fathers engage their sons and daughters that must sometimes be different.
“Just wait until your father gets home!” is a phrase that we might have often heard growing up. Dad as disciplinarian has defined most fathers throughout history. So it’s not difficult for fathers to grasp the idea that a basic role for them is to discipline their children. But what’s not so clear to a dad is how to use appropriate discipline (i.e., when to use it and proper techniques), and that he must model self-discipline if he hopes to raise a healthy child.
7. Gender Communication
You might wonder what gender communication has to do with fathering. It has a lot to do with fathering because when moms and dads effectively communicate, it helps them raise healthy children. It also helps fathers raising daughters to know how their daughters are “wired” to communicate and vice versa.
8. Building Healthy Marriages and Relationships
The most important relationship in the home is the relationship between the father and mother. How well the father gets along with the mother affects their children every day. This is true whether the father and mother are married to each other or not. Children look to their father’s relationship with their mother as the blueprint for developing their own relationships. If a father’s relationship with the mother is healthy, then the children will have a model for what a healthy relationship looks like.
9. Dealing with Emotions
Years ago a report on CNN recounted the horrific story of a man who entered a home in Atlanta and killed all the members of a family except one—a ten-year-old boy. The boy locked himself in an upstairs closet to escape the carnage. The police found him as they searched the home after the killings. Outside the hospital where doctors had examined the boy, a reporter interviewed the minister of the church this boy’s family had attended. When asked how the boy had held up through this tragedy, the minister said with his face and voice full of pride, “If he wasn’t a man before, he sure is now.” It was amazing that this minister was proud that a tragedy of this magnitude had made a man out of a ten year-old boy. He had likened the tragedy to a right of passage into manhood.
If fathers are to raise healthy children, they must first learn that it is manly to express their emotions and connect with and understand their emotions. They must then learn to express their emotions appropriately. You might encounter some fathers who uncover long-lost feelings and, perhaps, who have suppressed memories that will require the help of a professional counselor. You might also encounter fathers who need help getting their anger and rage under control. Be sure to have a list of resources to refer fathers for assistance.
10. Grief and Loss
Perhaps the emotion that fathers have the most difficulty expressing is the grief that results from the losses they encounter. All fathers experience loss, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or divorce. If a father doesn’t live with his children, he faces the loss of his children every day. Losses like these can devastate a father emotionally, spiritually, and financially. Other losses are not as obvious or life changing, but they are losses nonetheless. Examples of loss include losing a ball game, losing a bid for a contract or job, and having to cancel a trip you were really looking forward to.
11. Men's Health
The health of our nation’s men is in crisis. Although women suffer more often from some ailments, such as autoimmune disorders, on balance men are far and away worse off when it comes to health outcomes. Consider these startling facts on the state of men’s physical health:
men live an average of five years less than do women;
more men than women die from each of the 11 leading causes of death, including suicide (81 percent of suicides are committed by men);
91 percent of work-related deaths strike men;
men perish from drug-induced deaths at a rate of 16.2 (per 100,000) compared to 10.2 for women;
alcohol-induced deaths are 3 times higher among men;
more men than women use alcohol, binge drink, and drink heavily; and
more men than women are obese.
How many times have you heard the word “sexuality” uttered by men or been used to refer to men? Do men know the difference between “sex” and “sexuality” or understand the concept of “sexual self-worth?” The sad fact is that most men don’t know the difference between sex and sexuality, nor do they understand the concept of sexual self-worth. Most men, unfortunately, are raised to focus on the physical act of sex as the end all and be all of their sexual nature as human beings.
Before reading the rest of the information on this topic, consider the first few words or phrases that pop into your mind when you hear the word “intimate.” Did you consider words or phrases like “a close friend,” “personal,” “confidential,” “emotional,” or “spiritual?” Or did you consider words or phrases like “sex,” “sexual,” or “making love?” In working with men on this topic, it’s critical that you help them understand what intimacy truly means.
14. Power of Spirituality
Many fathers say they have been transformed by what their religious beliefs teach about the role of a father. As a result, some fatherhood programs are rooted in scriptural principles, teaching fathers to follow those principles as they raise their children. In working with fathers on this issue, it’s vital you communicate that spirituality is an important part of being a father and of a family.
15. Power of a Fathers' Support Group and Network
The quality of the relationships a man has is just as important to his health as is going to the doctor, eating right, and exercising. Men with strong social networks are healthier than men with weak ones. They live longer than do men with weak networks. It’s vital that fathers have people in their lives with whom they feel safe to share their feelings and to talk with about the challenges of fatherhood. No one understands better what it means to be a man and father than does another man and father.
16. Balancing Work and Family
One of the primary challenges fathers confront in becoming involved, responsible, and committed dads is the challenge of balancing work and family. NFI’s Pop’s Culture survey revealed that work responsibilities are the most significant barriers to fathers being the best dads they can be.
17. Financial Responsibility
“I want my two dollars!” is a familiar refrain of children when allowance time rolls around. Regardless of how much of an allowance parents give to their children, it’s often the first strategy parents use to teach their children financial responsibility. An allowance, when tied to chores, teaches kids that they must earn their money. Many parents take the idea of earning pay one step further by setting up savings accounts so that their children learn the value of saving money for the future—a lesson in delayed gratification.
Depending on how long and intensively you have worked with fathers, consider using additional NFI resources to more fully address some of the topics. Many of our curricula go into greater depth on most of these topics. We encourage you and the dads you work with to subscribe to our FatherSource™, a weekly email that includes tips and advice on a range of topics, and our Father Factor Blog, which also includes tips and advice from our staff and experienced dads, and will keep you updated on the latest research on, and opinions about, fatherhood and father involvement.
Download our free sample of 17 Critical Issues: A Guide for Fatherhood Practitioners & Staff to Use in Presentations, Home Visits, or Meeting with Dads